Popular settings for both casual and upscale dining have led to new levels of success and attest to the value of long-term planning strategies and a focus on member-driven improvements at the Governors Club.
At the Governors Club in Chapel Hill, N.C., grabbing a post-game drink with a golf buddy is just as important as celebrating a special occasion over a gourmet meal. Providing equally appealing aesthetics for both types of settings and purposes lets members and guests feel right at home, whether their outing is an impromptu gathering or a planned affair.
Serving both needs emerged in 2018 as the latest improvement goal for the club, which had already embarked upon a multimillion capital improvement project over a decade in the making [“The Strong State of the Governors Club,” C+RB, July 2014]. Tapping members for their input on how to best meet their evolving needs was instrumental in driving the latest changes.
“In our survey, 80 percent of our membership, which includes families, supported renovating our clubhouse dining spaces to reflect current trends toward increased casual, yet upscale dining,” explains current Chief Operating Officer Douglas Shifflett, CCM. “The membership wanted a larger bar area with casual seating and décor that would create an energetic atmosphere, along with a separate formal-dining option.”
The project became the latest stage of a multi-phase plan that kicked off in 2008 with the club’s “A Better Way” campaign. According to club member and former Planning Committee chair Dick Kahler, that campaign first laid the groundwork for improving member dining. “2008 was an important stepping stone toward the 2018 project—members were asking for dining-room improvements and a move toward a more casual environment,” Kahler says.
After engaging the Baltimore, Md.-based design firm Chambers, Kahler, Board President Maribeth Robb and the rest of the design team developed a clubhouse layout through the initial stages of “A Better Way” that ultimately exceeded members’ expectations. “It was a big hit,” says Kahler. “In fact, what happened was that its success soon surpassed its capacity. And that started the movement toward the 2018 renovation, to make casual, relaxed dining the primary focus while retaining a very nice, warm and special smaller room for more formal dining.”
That positive member response also served an unforeseen purpose, Kahler believes, by helping to provide consistency and maintain the club’s vision at a time when its leadership was undergoing changes (Shifflett, who was not present for the “Better Way” campaign, joined the club in May 2012). “The success of [the first stages of the] project helped Governors Club members understand that similar projects would be beneficial from time to time, and support for the process has been broad,” Kahler says.
Striking a Balance
To achieve a layout that encompasses both casual and fine-dining options, the design team for the 2018 project, which again included Chambers, needed to assess the shift in club dining culture and reflect that in the floor plan. “In years past, members made reservations at the club and planned long events in formal-dining areas for special occasions,” explains Chambers architect Colin Smith. “While these types of formal experiences have not disappeared altogether, they are not in as high demand as casual-dining spaces. This leads to many clubs reallocating square footage, to create larger casual venues and smaller formal areas.”
As a result, the casual dining and bar areas at the Governors Club now amass 2,150 sq. ft. (including a 120-sq. ft. addition), while the formal dining room is now 939 sq. ft. This layout includes 450 sq. ft. of corridor space that has been repurposed for additional dining space.
Transforming the club’s mostly traditional dining room into a more transitional style required a careful balance of color and accent pieces. Neutral carpeting and seating in the dining area now blend well with dark-walnut dining tables, a walnut-stained wine display and furniture accents. Upholstered settee backs and pillows in earth tones contrast nicely against eye-catching décor elements, including a bronze-tinted mirror on the columns and cut-glass pendant fixtures.
Interior designer Marishka Bachman points out other special elements that also help to modernize the dining space, including custom geometric print carpeting, an etched copper community dining table, and a see-through, multi-functional wine cabinet that helps to “create a shield from the back-of-house traffic and provide a beautiful display of the club’s wine offerings,” Bachman notes.
In the bar area, upholstered booths, curved banquettes and leather-style vinyl bar stools soften accent bar tables, with a horseshoe-shaped bar encouraging patrons to socialize without feeling confined.
The design team went to great lengths to manage acoustics in a typically noisy area. “Fabric-wrapped acoustical panels were installed on the gypsum ceilings on the member side of the bar, and sound-batt insulation was installed in the walls to reduce transmission between spaces,” Smith says.
Other noteworthy additions include televisions deliberately positioned above the bar counter, so they can only be viewed in that area, and a double-sided, see-through fireplace that is shared with the formal dining space. (Additional fireplaces using water-vapor flame technology are installed on tiled focal walls, both in the bar and casual-dining areas.)
While the club’s lobby and entryway were not part of the original renovation plans, they also benefited from a series of aesthetic updates. The main lobby has been outfitted with tweed fabric lounge chairs, a wrought-iron frame coffee table and an area rug with classic Greek key border.
The corridor leading to the dining areas has also been enhanced by dark gray porcelain tile that carries over into the bar area, along with a custom reception desk and tall sconces. To further personalize this space, the club commissioned a contemporary artist to create a ceramic wall sculpture behind the reception desk.
Toasting Member Loyalty
With this dynamic transformation to the club’s dining scene, the residual effect has been consistent member satisfaction. “Our enhanced dining spaces have increased our total covers, but more importantly have created a loyalty to dining within the club, which includes our wine programming,” says Clubhouse Manager Josh Baskey.
Baskey also credits members’ increased interest in wine selections to the new room’s “Wall of Wine.” “It serves as a visual representation of our wine list and highlights our wide variety,” he says.
In addition to cultivating a robust beverage program, the club is reaping the benefits of strong overall F&B revenues. Last year, overall sales increased by 10 percent, with covers surpassing nearly 50,000 to unseat the previous high of 40,000.
“Our member utilization of the newly renovated dining space has exceeded all expectations,” enthuses Shifflett.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the club dining business upside down, the Governors Club is still finding new ways to satisfy its hungry membership. In addition to implementing standard safety practices—temperature check points, masks and hand-sanitizer stations—the club has shifted its attention to outdoor dining without hurting its bottom line.
“Reimagining our outdoor spaces, along with tent coverage for inclement weather, has allowed us to triple our outdoor seating capacity while still promoting social distancing,” says Baskey. “While we’ve reduced the capacity of our indoor dining areas, we haven’t lost a significant amount of total potential covers, which allows us to maintain our same level of award-winning service and culinary offerings.”
With the future of dining options remaining uncertain, the Governors Club plans to stay the course by keeping communication lines open and assuring members that having a cocktail or dinner on the premises can, in fact, still be an enjoyable experience.
“We’re committed to remaining transparent with our members about our processes that are designed to keep them safe and healthy,” notes Baskey. “We believe this is key to building trust and continuing promotion of our dining rooms, inside and out.”
Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
Total Project Cost: $3 million (kitchen, dining rooms, bar)
• Phase One (“A Better Way” campaign: renovated clubhouse, fitness, tennis and pool), 2007-08
• Phase Two (clubhouse, locker rooms, ballroom, foyer), 2013-14
• Phase Three (expanded dining rooms, renovated lobby and entryway), 2017-18
• Phase One introduced the club’s “A Better Way” capital plan to fund a series of improvements to the clubhouse.
• Phase Two renovated the clubhouse locker rooms, ballroom, foyer and much of the upstairs.
• Phase Three created updated dining spaces, including a larger bar area and separate formal dining room, along with lobby and entryway enhancements.
Highlights of Project Results:
• Food-and-beverage revenue increased 10 percent in 2019.
• Member dining saw 50,000 covers in 2019, besting the previous high of 40,000.
• Increased dining room utilization has heightened member interest in wine offerings.